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City of Banjul
Monday, October 2, 2023

Sheikh Umar Faye (1889-1959)


Sheikh Omar Faye was my grandfather.  He came with his father Ibrahima Faye who is my great grandfather from Senegal to The Gambia. They hailed from a community called Njogolor. Sheikh Umar Faye as we were told and to our knowledge, was learned in both Qur’anic/Arabic and English languages.  He was a prolific scholar and teacher. During the colonial days, the British asked the ancient kings and leaders like Maba Jahou Ba to enrol their children in the English schools but they declined. These elders were reluctant because they feared that would corrupt the behaviours and lives of their children. But the British administrators insisted that they simply wanted to teach the children how to write and to be able to communicate with them in order to help them better rule the country and so forth.  But the elder were not convinced and a meeting was summoned between the British administrators and the kings. Finally, they agreed on the condition that their children go to Sheikh Umar Faye’s compound which has a madrassa where they will be taught the Holy Qur’an alongside English. This is how they brought their children to Umar Faye at Dobson treet in Banjul. During that time Sheikh Umar Faye educated them and also taught them a lot about Islam.

In fact, sheikh Umar met the renowned saint Al Hajj Umar al Futiyou Taal when he came to Bathurst (Banjul), The Gambia in the 1880s. At that time Umar Faye was having a shop where he was selling some merchandise at the junction of Cameron and Wellington streets.  He was a successful businessman.  And opposite Wellington and where Gampost is, there was nothing and everything there was empty. It was only Wellington and the shop and opposite was only the beach and the sea.  So one day Sheikh Umar went to the shop and he saw a man sitting under a tree for a long time. So he decided to go and meet him. He greeted him and asked him his name and he said he was Umar Taal. He asked where he came from and he pointed to the east and also asked him his destination and he pointed to the west.  Sheikh Umar asked him, ‘Do you know anybody here?’, he replied, ‘no’. Then Sheikh Umar told him ‘all right, when my lunch comes I will bring some food for you and if I close we can go to the house’.  He agreed. At that time, those who were wealthy used to have a sizeable number of wives and the more wives one gets the more food.  For example, if you have two wives each will bring a basin of food. And if you have three wives, they will all cook and bring their basins.  That is how those rich people were before.  So there were three different bowls of food. And he chose the best of out of the lot and went to Al-Hajj Umar Futiyou and gave it to him. And Al-Hajj Omar Futiyou ate, and drank all the stuff. And in the evening when he closed, he took him to the house where he was hosted by the Faye family at Dobson for three days. And when he was going, the whole family gathered under the baobab tree outside. This is where he stood when he came and it is also where he stood leaning on the baobab tree before leaving. And the family gathered and he prayed for them all. And then he told Sheikh Umar Faye, ‘ Your wife who was bringing food for me, I appreciate what she did and I am praying for her and I am giving you glad tidings that she has in her womb a one-month old baby and insh’Allah, the baby will be a boy. And this was Al-Hajj Ahmad Tijan Faye, my late father.

Sheikh Omar Faye was a very rich man. He owned a successful business and had lots and lots of compounds in the Greater Banjul Area and beyond. In fact the former Cedar Club and now FIBank House along Kairaba Avenue used to belong to him. During his days, a white man used to lend out money to people in the country and at one point the people defaulted and could not pay him. The white man decided to seize their compounds. Sheikh Umar went to plead with him on their behalf. But the white man insisted that was the agreement with the defaulters and Sheikh Umar generously ceded the Cedar Club land to him to resolve the case. 

Meanwhile, he was a member of the Legislative Council in 1902 where he was very influential and deliberated on key policy decisions beneficial to the development of The Gambia while he was still a disciple of the Tariqat al-Tijjaniyyaa.  


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